7 comments

Contemporary Friendship

“So, what’s going on? Helen told me you were going to the middle east or something.”

“Yes, I’ve been called,” she said, with that warm but shy smile as if she was admitting a crush. Its Lucy’s smile I remember. She wasn’t beautiful really but her face drew your eyes to it. Strong straight eyebrows and a pixie nose. Her mouth was a bit crooked and more so when she smiled.

“Called, what do you mean?”

“I’ve been called by God.”

“Are you ready to order.” I absent mindedly waved the waitress away.

“Oh, sorry, could we have a couple of minutes please?” said Lucy, ever polite. The waitress retreated.

“Called by god to do what?”

“I know you don’t believe; I so wish you could. God has called me to serve him in Syria I think. To start with I just noticed news items and Syria just kept jumping out to me. It just kept, keeps getting stronger. I see the word everywhere and it pulls me. I just know. I have no doubt.”

“You’re going to perform there?”

“No, I think I need to give up piano. This is more important than playing.”

“What will you do?”

“I don’t know yet, anything he asks.”

“You know, when you keep seeing things, there’s a name for that. Selection bias, I think. Were naturally inclined to seek out patterns in the world around us, even when they aren’t there.”

“I have no doubt. I feel it. I know it. I can’t explain why it should be Syria, I’ve never thought about Syria before, but I know it is. You remember when you fell in love, that feeling, that certainty in your heart. You can explain it away with serotonin, or hormones or conditioning, whatever you like, but you can’t escape the certainty of it. You just knew. And I know, I know God wants me to try to go to Syria. Everything in my brain and heart knows it. Feels it. Yes, people often see patterns in random events, did you ever think maybe God wants us to see them.”

“But give up Piano? You’re just getting noticed. That John Adams piece at St Martins was amazing and the Janacek Allegro. Years of Piano. All that practice, all that skill. Why would God want you to give that up? Lucy, you’re a great musician”

“I have to be faithful to what I believe is right, faithful to what I believe God wants me to do, whatever the results. The adding up isn’t ours to see is it. Who’s to measure what’s good or great?”

“They’re Muslims Lucy, they have a lot of good reasons to dislike Christians, do you know what you’re letting yourself in for? There’s still fighting there isn’t there? You’re not going to try and convert them, surely.”

“I know it’s not going to be easy. All I have is try to go to Syria. I’ve prayed for more guidance. A mission statement, with an itinerary and maps would be good, but He’s not playing, I’ve just got to try to go to Syria. I’ll get instructions en route perhaps.”

“Very funny. Don’t you think you need to take it a bit easy on yourself? You’ve had a pretty tough couple of years. The infertility problems, the miscarriages, John leaving, it’s a lot, I’d be falling apart”

She smiled again, as if I was being silly. “I trust god.”

“You don’t even speak Arabic. What are you going to do there?”

“Well, I did the childcare course. I’ve started to learn Arabic. At SOAS. I admit, it’s hard, I’ve never been good at languages, I only speak French cos I went to school in Belgium for a term”

“Oh god yea, I could have smacked your dad. ‘Learn something useful, in case the piano doesn’t work out.’”

“Well, he meant well and maybe it was part of God’s plan. Perhaps He wants me to use it now. I always loved that Lilias Trotter quote; ‘You can never tell to what untold glories a little humble path may lead if you follow far enough.‘ ”

“Is that what this is about, you want to be Lilias Trotter, give up being a famous artist to be a missionary?” We had argued about Lilias Trotter, Lucy finding her story inspiring, me appalled that such an amazing artist would sacrifice her art to travel to Algeria to try and convert people. Convert Muslims, it seemed arrogant, pointless. She didn’t speak Arabic either.

“No, I mean she was wonderful, but no. I’m not sure I want to do this, to be honest, it’s kind of terrifying. And I love piano, you know I do, but God is asking and I need to say ‘Yes’. And the miscarriages, the infertility. That was hard, painful and it broke my heart when John left, but maybe it was just making way for this. Freeing me so I can follow his wishes.”

She is almost in tears. She loved John, her husband, it tore her up when he left.  I wonder if she’s having a breakdown. I would be, she deserves one.

“Have you told your parents yet?”

“Yes, they don’t really understand. You know what they’re like, they never did. Always thought it was a fad I picked up from the nuns in Belgium. They don’t believe, not really, so it’s hard for them to understand”

“Kind of a long fad, ten years now isn’t it?”

“Hello, sorry we kept you waiting, I’d like an Earl Grey please and a piece of carrot cake. The waitress gets the smile and looks to me.

“Just an americano, no milk.”

“Anything to eat?”

“No, thanks.”

I tell Lucy, “I’m still fighting my thighs.” We’ve had the conversation often, staying in peak shape is a struggle for me. Dancer problems. “Can’t God wait a bit. I mean you’ve dealt with a lot this last year. It seems like a tough ask.”

“Take the very hardest thing in your life, the place of the most difficulty and expect God to triumph gloriously, in that very spot. Just there he can bring your soul in to blossom.”

“Then what happens?” I don’t mean to but I sound annoyed.

“I don’t know. My only responsibility is to listen to God and feel the joy of my life.”

And she did seem to feel joy in everything. An absolute abundant joy. It was lovely. The Earl grey was ‘delicious’. The carrot cake ‘wonderful’. “aren’t these cups lovely, so fine and pretty.” “Your eyes are lovely when they catch the sun.”

We started talking about a dream she had had. She was in a field in pouring rain trying to put a tent up.

“So, I’m dripping wet. Rain is dripping off my chin and running down my arms. Even my bra is wet, and the tent is impossible, you know what they’re like, you get one pole in and another pops out. Anyway, I finally get the tent up, but when I go in there are moles inside.”

“Moles?”

“Yes, moles, a whole family, in the tent, and I’m trying to shoo them out, but they are as blind as .. well, moles, and they wander everywhere, so I start whistling at them like someone with a sheepdog. And I realise I’m whistling a tune “

“OMG, what tune?”

“I couldn’t work it out at first, I thought maybe it was a Beethoven melody or Verdi or something. Then I realised it was ABBA, ‘Take a chance on me’. My old music teacher would have had a fit.”

Like we always did, we ended up giggling uncontrollably.

She was always the perfect friend. If my disastrous sex life was giving me a hard time, she was always there to cheer me up. She’d tease me for being wicked and foolish for sleeping around  - “when are you going to realise you’re too valuable for this” - but she would turn out and hug me whenever I needed her. Could always make me laugh.

When she had miscarried for the second time, it was just before Christmas, and she was in a lot of pain, couldn’t sleep and had gone out into the garden in the night. She phoned me in the morning, so excited that she thought she had seen the star of Bethlehem. She had read it was returning, there was some sort of alignment or conjunction or something after two thousand years. She was like a child. Excited to see that star. And she said Mary must have been so scared, in the night, pregnant on that donkey. She didn’t talk about her miscarriage, or that she was in pain or that her husband who she loved was deserting her because she couldn’t give him a child. She was worried about Mary two thousand years ago.

                                               ----0----

It’s hot and I’m not dressed for summer. I don’t really want to speak to Lucy’s parents. They never supported her music, were dismissive of her belief. I always thought they were small minded and mean. Then I hear Lucy’s voice in my head; “A few words of kindness can travel with you for years, all through your life really.” Lucy’s small quiet voice must have touched so many people, always kind, always with her smile.

It was the last time we met, that café on Regents Street. Lucy left a month or two later. I don’t think she ever got to Syria. She took a job working for Syrian refugees in Jordan, in the vast Zaatari Refugee Camp. Where eighty thousand Syrians have lived for years. Twenty thousand children under five so I guess Lucy was kept busy. I saw a few requests for funds for the kids on Facebook and guiltily gave a small amount. I feel bad now, that I didn’t give more.

Then her mother’s invite to the memorial service arrived.

She had volunteered to work with kids in Gaza, orphans I guess. They never recovered her body from the rubble but there were witnesses; She was ripped apart by an IDF shell. I felt guilty in the church, a fake. I still can’t believe in a god. I just don’t feel it can be true.  I want to meet him though, to shout, “That was mean, just plain mean, she was on your side, what did she ever do to you!”

Then I hear her soft small voice, excited, but shy, chuffed. “God wants me in heaven.” And I cry and I so hope, really long for there to be a heaven, where Lucy will be whole, smile her beautiful smile, will run through gardens in the sun and be loved.

I walk over to politely offer my condolences, to talk about kindness and bravery. I’m fighting back the tears. Then I see her grandmother’s face, same crooked mouth, same smile, and the sobbing arrives before I can speak.

“Lucy …

February 22, 2024 19:16

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

7 comments

Paul Littler
15:05 Apr 06, 2024

An emotional gut punch, and a reminder to value the little things we take for granted. You’re an extremely talented writer, thanks for sharing such a special gift

Reply

Vid Weeks
09:46 Apr 11, 2024

Thanks so much Paul, appreciate your feedback. "an extremely talented writer" might well find its way onto the cover of my planned collection of short stories! Just bought your collection, "Itch" and I'm enjoying it a lot. A scary, well written tour through every room of the dark gothic mansion. Will pop a review on Amazon when I've finished.

Reply

Paul Littler
09:43 Apr 14, 2024

Vid, your comments about ‘itch’ are amazing, and will be making the way to the cover of the revised edition! I’m looking forward to reading more of your work, especially your collected short stories

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Tom Skye
14:23 Feb 23, 2024

Well told story. Heartfelt engagement with a political edge. Nice work. Thanks for sharing

Reply

Vid Weeks
16:26 Feb 23, 2024

Thanks Tom, I appreciate your feedback. I'm glad you picked up the political edge, I was worried I'd underplayed it

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Stella Aurelius
10:05 Feb 23, 2024

Vid, this is very touching. I'm happy the protagonist was at least, a supportive friend. In terms of story, it's a succinct yet powerful story. Great take on the prompt !

Reply

Vid Weeks
13:29 Feb 23, 2024

Thank you Stella, I consider your praise very valuable.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.